Heinlein: Confederate nurse experiences carnage of war

Heinlein: Confederate nurse experiences carnage of war

September 29th, 2013 By Anton Heinlein in Opinion Columns

Within days of the Battle of Chickamauga, citizens felt an urge to visit the battlefield. Some were relatives searching for loved ones; others included Gen. Ulysses Grant and Confederate President Jefferson Davis; and some, like Kate Cumming, were curious visitors who had never seen a battlefield.

A native of Scotland and resident of Mobile, Ala., Kate Cumming was attending patients at a Newnan, Ga., Confederate hospital at the time of the battle. After listening to an address that "presented a picture of suffering that would have wrung the heart of the most hardened," Kate determined to assist the wounded.

Arriving at Ringgold, she found "wounded men, wrapped in their blankets, lying on the balcony." She also saw numerous surgeons and nurses arriving and determined to return to the Newnan hospital.

Before departing, Kate was asked by Mrs. Weir (first name unknown) of Griffin, Ga., to accompany her to the battlefield. Mrs. Weir came to nurse her son, who had lost a leg at Chickamauga and was recovering at a nearby residence. With the assistance of John Deering, a disabled man from Kentucky, the party secured a ride from a driver who was returning to the battlefield after delivering wounded.

After traveling rough roads, they arrived at the Strickland home where Mrs. Weir's son was. The driver, Mr. Thedford (first name unknown), asked Kate to continue to the Hunt farm -- the location of Hindman's Division Hospital. It did not take much persuading. Kate had never seen a field hospital, they likely needed her services, and she was anxious to learn if her brother, James, serving in Garrity's Alabama Battery, Hindman's Division, had made it safely through the battle.

At the Hunt Farm, Kate saw numerous tents and sheds filled with wounded. Inside Hunt's residence, serving as Manigault's Brigade Hospital, she saw "old friends" who had been badly wounded and learned from them that only one soldier from her brother's company had been killed in the battle.

Kate was introduced to surgeons in charge of the hospital. Dr. Cochran, who met Kate in Chattanooga hospitals, accompanied her as they visited other wounded soldiers from Mobile.

The following morning, Oct. 1, Kate arose and "found it raining in torrents." The surgeons asked her to have breakfast with them, but she declined; "I felt as if I never should eat again. The scenes with which I was surrounded had taken away my appetite."

Realizing that she was of little service there, Kate hoped to return to Mr. Stickland's home where she could secure a ride back to Ringgold. Two surgeons offered her and Mr. Deering their horses, and Miss Hunt loaned Kate her saddle and skirt.

As they departed, Kate looked straight ahead because "there were many pairs of eyes looking sadly at us from the sheds and tents. I could do nothing for them, and when that is the case I try to steel my heart against their sorrows."

At their arrival, Mrs. Strickland provided Kate a change of clothes, a warm fire and a place of sleep.

The following day Kate and Mrs. Weir visited the Georgia Relief Society and procured clothing to deliver to one of the field hospitals.

Finding the beds empty in Brown's Brigade Hospital, the pair journeyed to Cheatham's Division Hospital where a surgeon led the women through a fly "about 100 feet long, and every man in it had a limb amputated. It was a sad sight, and I could scarcely refrain from tears."

When asked if they wanted to see more, Kate declined having "seen enough harrowing scenes among our own men to make me miserable."

With everything she had witnessed the last few days, Kate decided to forgo visits to the battlefield, "as much time had elapsed since the battle. I am told that the effluvia (stench) arising from the carnage makes it impossible to go within a mile of it."

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When visiting area battlefields, admire the beautiful monuments that the veterans erected, read the tablets that describe their participation in the battles, and contemplate the scenes witnessed by Kate Cumming and others in the days and weeks after the battles of Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. It provides a deeper understanding and appreciation for what was experienced 150 years ago.

Anton Heinlein is Park Ranger for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. For more, visit chattahistoricalassoc.org or telephone LaVonne Jolley at 423-886-2090.